August 25, 2016

Action Plans at the University of York

By Michelle Blake, Head of Relationship Management

When we restructured our Relationship Management Team (RMT) at the University of York in January 2014 it was with an aim to allow staff to develop expertise across three main areas (rather than to try to be expert across all 3): relationship building, research support services, and teaching and learning. One of our overall aims was to strengthen relationships with staff and students across the university by understanding and engaging in the new research and teaching environment, and providing appropriate and targeted services and support.

Liaison is one of our key functions and our structure allows our liaison librarians to have the time to focus on building meaningful relationships with academic departments, notably through the academic staff themselves, with an aim of reaching and influencing students through them. At the same time we introduced this model we developed annual library action plans.

The purpose of our Action Plans are:
  • to help make explicit the investment, usage and purpose of the Library to each department
  • to help to focus the work that needs to take place with each department to address issues or improve current service
  • provide an opportunity to discuss priorities with department and build/maintain relationship
  • function as a partnership document between the Library and each academic department
  • act as a workplan (forms much of Liaison Librarian objectives for the year)
  • act as evidence for departmental planning processes

Ned’s post describes some of the sources of information we use and shows what our plans in 2015 looked like. Below you can also view our template for 2016.

York Action Plan 2016 Template

We’ve found it’s crucial to have buy-in and input from the top in each department to make the Action Plans work. The Action Plans act as the basis for a meeting which takes place with key members of the academic department - notably the Head of Department and the academic Library Representative - and the Library - the Academic Liaison Librarian and the Head of Relationship Management or the Academic Liaison Manager. Where it hasn’t been possible for the Head of Department to attend we have someone else in key position in the department e.g. Deputy Head, Chair of Board of Studies. The Academic Liaison Librarian leads the meeting and it allows all draft actions to be discussed. After the meeting the finalised action plan is produced and sent to department and they choose how to disseminate it within their own department.

We have been fortunate in getting all departments on board. The first year we scheduled action plan meetings, all but one department met with us. The second year we had meetings with all departments. Departments see the value of the meeting as we develop shared priorities for partnership working. We have honest and open conversations about the issues in each department and most are realistic about the limits of what we can do. This approach has resulted in even closer working relationships and a more detailed understanding of how departments work (and the nuances between them). Our engagement efforts are becoming more meaningful and we are viewed as a trusted partner. We are able to tailor our communications with departments as we have insight into what will work with each of them.

After all action plan meetings have taken place analysis is conducted to identify the key themes and identify which departments we need to work with in these areas and where there is commonality to work across a group of departments rather than duplicating effort.

We are realistic in how many initiatives we can undertake with any one department and ensure that no one liaison librarian (they are each responsible for 3-4 departments) is involved in too many initiatives. Priorities are then discussed with the rest of the senior managers to establish what work will take place and likely timescales as part of our larger planning discussions.

Finally in order to ensure liaison librarians can keep track of their actions (and everyone else across the wider library service knows what is happening) we have developed a centralised spreadsheet of actions where updates can be added. In addition, we have developed our own customer relationship management (CRM) database where all our interactions with departments are captured so we have a holistic picture of what activity is taking place across all departments. A future blog post will look specifically at our CRM.

Our timeline:
  • Planning for the coming year (October-December) e.g. data gathering, template created, scheduling meetings with departments
  • Results LibQual (Library Survey) and drafting plans (January/February)
  • Checking of plans and sending out in advance of meetings (February/March - sent 1 week before the meeting)
  • Meetings take place (March/April)
  • Finalised action plan sent to department (approx. 1 week after meeting)
  • Summary/theming of issues (April)
  • Prioritisation and planning work (May)
  • Start work on actions (April-May)
  • Review of process (May) and improvements documented for the next year
Our top tips for implementing Action Plans:
  • Someone needs to take responsibility/ownership for the process (and preferably more than one person)
  • It’s a long process (but one with lots of benefits)
  • Look for quick wins (especially in the early days)
  • Report back on what you’ve done to the departments
  • You need to have good reliable data
  • Context is key (you need to understand your departments)
  • Plan and prepare early
  • Review and improve - it’s a continual process
  • Get feedback (from everyone)
  • Look for common issues - where can you do things across a number of departments
  • Show the benefits to the departments (especially the Head)
  • Encourage departments to use/share the Action Plan e.g. APR, BoS
  • When key staff members change ensure you explain the process (don’t rely on them to know what they are and why you do them)
  • Ensure actions are followed up and regular updates are given (to Library Rep)
  • Share internally - make sure you’re own staff know what’s going on
  • Remember it’s a relationship and works two ways
  • Embed it - make it a part of your normal day to day, yearly process
An article about our Action Plans and how we’ve used them to build relationships at York was published in Sconul focus 65.

August 23, 2016

Updating LibGuides Part 2: the next generation

By David Brown, Academic Liaison Librarian

This blog post follows on from one earlier this week (which you can read here) where I looked at the initial stages of our project to update our LibGuides - or Subject Guides as we call them. This time I'll explore how we managed the process of upgrading to the new version and rolling out the new and improved guides.

Where did we leave off?

Previously on ... we'd just decided that we were going to upgrade our LibGuides pages to the new version of the interface (version 2) in order to take advantage of some of its new features. That meant some immediate thinking about how we were going to manage the upgrade and make sure that nothing was lost during the transition.

To that end we set up a small project team with some of my more technically-minded colleagues to start scoping what we needed to achieve. The process was actually quite straightforward - you choose a date for Springshare to copy across all of your data from version 1, check that everything's working OK, then choose a final date when the version 2 site will become your live, front-facing version. There was, of course, more involved in between each of those steps, but probably the biggest issue was figuring out what was possible in the new version.

Version 2 is definitely a step forward in terms of functionality - for example, you can now include multiple types of content in the same box, and it's much more responsive to optimise on different devices. Some of the difficulty for us came in tweaking the in-built design to what we wanted to achieve - for example, we had to change the default icons for database links as they didn't match our overall design. Thankfully some of the project team have an encyclopaedic knowledge of javascript so were able to write some all-singing, all-dancing code to get us where we needed to be. So one top tip if you're considering this kind of thing is choosing people for your project who aren't afraid to dig around in some HTML! It also helps that LibGuides is very hack-friendly, so you have lots of opportunity to play around with the design.

So far so good, but what about design?

Having forged ahead with the new interface of the site, it was now time to think more closely about what we wanted our new pages to look like. Based on our previous consultations with students and staff (see the previous post for more), we knew that we wanted to remove a lot of the clutter from the pages, and to bring them to life with colour and dynamic content. We went through a lot of iterations before coming up with our final design, which was based around a similar colour scheme as before but tweaked to get the best out of LibGuides. Thankfully the new version did a lot of the work for us, as it had moved around already some of the features that we were intending to change - such as the admin log-in box, which in the previous version had proved really confusing for users being in a prominent position on the page.

Part of the design process also meant consulting with the 'owners' of each LibGuide - mostly members of the Academic Liaison team. We had agreed in the scoping that we would create a more uniform page structure for the guides, with fixed names for each tab/sub-page. These also went through a few changes, but we eventually settled on: Welcome page, Find resources, Evaluate what you've found and Organise your work (plus any other subject-specific pages). We therefore started with a generic structure for each guide, which was made subject-specific through the choice of content on each page.

I would say not to underestimate the amount of time it takes to come up with a design on which everyone agrees. Even in our case where we knew from the start what we wanted to achieve, there was a lot of back and forth about the best way to do things. It certainly helps that LibGuides is quite responsive - there's a lot that you can achieve if you know where to look!


... and after. Hopefully you agree that it's an improvement!

Now it's time to roll out

With an agreed design in place, it was now time to start making some changes to each of our guides. My first job was to update the main Subject Guides homepage, which needed to become more streamlined and user-friendly. We also wanted the page to say something about the support available to students from the Library, so added a new section with images and a video.

Each guide owner was then asked to begin updating their own pages in LibGuides to reflect what we wanted in the new interface. To give people some goal posts, I created a set of guidelines to map put exactly what was expected in the new guides i.e. what content should go where, what design elements people should use. A lot of the guidelines focuses on accessibility - for example, making sure that everything on the pages is screen-readable. The guidelines were intentionally designed as a working document so that I could add to them as new ideas came up. One of the most important aspects of this was each guide's homepage. We had set out to make them much more specific to the department (whereas previously they all had a generic design) and to include content which changes on a regular basis. It was left to each guide owner to decide how to achieve this - for my guides I decided to create a communications plan, in which I would upload a new message of interest to the guides on a monthly basis.

To assist people with the task of updating, I blocked out a morning for the team where everyone could work on their guides collectively. This proved really useful, as everyone could try out ideas together and learn from one another. We also ended up solving a few technical glitches as a result, so the morning was time well spent.

So what next?

Now that we've (almost) completed the new set of Subject Guides, we're into the final stages of the project. My next job (apart from finalising my own guides) is to create a checklist for guide owners, which will talk them through what they need to do to complete everything. This will be ready shortly before the start of the new academic year, at which point we'll start shouting about the new and improved pages. We also continue to explore the inclusion of content which automatically updates - such as a feed of new book images from our catalogue.

I'm going to be setting up regular 'health checks' of the Subject Guides, probably termly, where I'll be asking the guide owners to give their content a once over. This should mean that we've got a rolling process of quality assurance. We're also continuing to explore some of the differences in LibGuides version 2, such as the built-in A-Z databases list.

Top tips

Although I can't necessarily claim any pearls of wisdom, I can definitely say that we learned a lot throughout the project. Probably the biggest tip I can give is to leave plenty of time to achieve a redesign of this nature. In all it's taken us the best part of two years from beginning to end, in large part because other things crop up along the way - a couple of pesky Autumn terms to say the least! It's worth the time though, as I feel that we've ended up with a fantastic new design and a set of pages that is ultimately much more beneficial for our users.

Part of the time commitment is getting used to the new version of LibGuides. The basics of creating and editing your content are the same, but you'll need time to get used to the new features and layout. It certainly helped that we had a small project team that I could draw on for a lot of this work - and I was especially lucky that they were very technically-minded.

Finally, the more consultation you can do the better. It was really important that what we were doing was right for as many people as possible, staff and students alike. Whilst we were never going to please everyone, it was critical that we took into account everyone's views and showed some direct changes as a result.

Good luck with your voyage of discovery in the new LibGuides!

August 18, 2016

Updating LibGuides Part 1: the original series

By David Brown, Academic Liaison Librarian 

Like many libraries, we use Springshare's LibGuides platform for some of our web pages - at York we use LibGuides to host our Subject Guides, which are subject- or department-specific gateways to resources and support for our users. This is the first post discussing the work of a two-year project to scope and implement changes to the Subject Guides.

Our new and improved Subject Guides - the product of two years of scoping, planning and designing

Why did we need the project?

A good question - and one which I struggled with at the start of the project! Having used LibGuides for a number of years (since Summer 2012, pre-dating my time at York), our pages had developed in quite different ways under the control of different Academic Liaison Librarians. This meant that, while the content of the guides was very good, we had essentially created a system where everyone was developing the same content over and over again - for example, information about digital literacy skills had been created multiple times but basically said the same thing on each guide.

The initial stimulus for this project was to introduce some consistency across our guides - to help our users primarily, but also to make the guides more easily navigable for staff on the Library's Help Desk. We also now operate a more collaborative model within the Academic Liaison team which sees us answering enquiries and supporting students from any department - that means using resources with which we're less familiar, so we needed a quick and easy entry point for each department.

The project also initially set out to consider the purpose of our Subject Guides, which had a mixed approach between marketing the Library and subject support for users. The balance between these objectives needed to be considered to make sure that the guides were working for everyone.

How did we begin?

The first step of the project was to do some scoping work - I needed to establish what wasn't working about the current guides and therefore what might need to change. I decided to do some consultation with our users (mainly students) and Library staff - both within the Relationship Management team but also from other sections - as well as some benchmarking with other institutions' use of LibGuides. I also looked at some web analytics for the guides to get a better feel for how people were using them. This work was carried out in Summer 2015.

Student consultations

To get some feedback from students we used a tried and tested method at York: Grab and Gos. We use these to collect quick feedback from students passing by communal areas in the Library, usually in our foyer space. For the Subject Guides project we asked students whether or not they currently use their department's guide and what they would like to see change about it. The feedback from students suggested a number of clear changes that we should look to introduce: to give each guide its own identity, specific to that department; to improve the layout and use of space on the pages; to add content which changes regularly so people have a reason to come back to the page.

Staff consultations

For the staff consultations I organised meetings with colleagues from across different sections of the Library in both first- and second-line capacities. I asked them to dissect the current design, layout and look and feel of the guides by scribbling over some printed screenshots - and they certainly didn't hold back about what they thought wasn't working! A lot of the feedback matched what the students had reported, but staff also wanted to see more consistency across the different sections of the guides so that it was much clearer where they should be directing students for information. They also commented that they would like to get rid of lots of the clutter on the page, which meant valuable space was being used up for little gain.

An example of the screenshot which I asked colleagues to scribble on - one of my own guides so that I wasn't asking anyone else to be the guinea pig!


We also carried out some scoping of how other institutions were using the LibGuides platform. This turned up lots of really interesting ideas - but also lots of variation! In a sense this actually made my job harder in deciding how best to direct our own development of the guides, but I think it was still a worthwhile exercise in seeing what was possible through LibGuides - and there's nothing wrong with plagiarising sharing best practice from learned colleagues.

What did we decide to do?

Armed with a lot of feedback and ideas, I wrote a proposal for Library managers about what we should do next. I had a number of key aims for the next phase of the project, including:
  • To overhaul the look and feel of the Subject Guides to give them an identity distinct from the main Library website and other pages on the LibGuides platform;
  • To redesign the landing page for the Subject Guides, which lacked context and was quite visually uninteresting;
  • To change the focus of each guide's homepage to become much more department-specific, and to include more dynamic content;
  • To adopt a set of guidelines about the tone and level of content to ensure consistency across the guides;
  • To centralise as much content as possible to ensure that guide owners were not duplicating material unnecessarily.
We had initially decided not to upgrade to the newer version of LibGuides (version 2), as that would have meant a lot more design and planning work. It became clear, however, that the new version was going to provide much better options for mobile devices and responsive design, so we decided to upgrade when we were already doing some work to the guides - in other words, nobody quite had the stomach for another round of designing! It's also likely that we'd have been forced to upgrade at some point anyway, so it made sense to roll everything together in one go.

That brings us to the end of the first year of the project and, strangely enough, this blog post! Look out for part 2 later this week where I'll talk more about the upgrade and how we ultimately rolled out the new design.

August 09, 2016

Library Action Plans Part 1: An Introduction

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian 

The next post on Lib-Innovation will be by Michelle Blake and will go into detail on our Annual Action Plan process. This has proved an incredibly valuable way of engaging with, and getting engagement from, all the academic departments at York.

Ahead of Michelle's post, the presentation below gives a brief introduction to the process, its evolution over the last few years, and shows some examples from a 2015 Action Plan.

August 02, 2016

Creating library images with copy-space for text

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian 

As always things have changed in the library over the summer, and we needed some new images to reflect our reconfigured rooms, new signage and new services. We're very fortunate to have easy access to the University photographer Paul Sheilds, who is based in our Morrell Library building, so we booked a morning with him.

We had very specific needs in mind, based on a list we'd drawn up to suit what I wanted for our Induction Project, what my Academic Liaison colleague David Brown wanted for the new LibGuides (more on which in another blog post) and what the Comms Team needed. In particular I was really keen to get photos with copy-space.

Copy-space literally means a space to write 'copy' in the newspaper meaning of the word - in other words an area of the image which is less busy and which could be written upon without obscuring a key part of the picture.

In essence I wanted to be able to write directly onto the images (for use in slides, posters, digital screens and social media) without having either a separate area for text, or a back-filled text box - because I think it looks smarter that way and because it allows the images to be full screen at all times. It's a lot easier to do this when the images are captured with that in mind from the outset.

Here are some examples - these are works-in-progress that I'm playing around with for the forthcoming #UoYTips Induction campaign for 2016/17. They probably won't look exactly like this in the final versions but the copy-text principle will remain.

We have borrowable laptops which I wanted to showcase. I've added a piece of text to the copy-space:

Here's an example of an image of the same lockers which is a great pic but which doesn't have copy-space built in:

It would be possible to write on this of course, but you'd need to manipulate the image to ensure the text was legible, or used a back-filled text box.

Next up is a picture of the copy-print-scan machines - the copy-space in this case being the underside of the lid. I did experiment with having the text at an angle to match it but it looked a little clunky so I went with good old fashioned horizontal text for this one...

Here's a picture of a student - by not putting her centre of the frame (and by conforming to the rule of thirds) we've made space for the text.

Finally here's an example where despite leaving copy-space the background is too busy to write directly onto - the text wouldn't be clear enough. There's a neat divide where the wall ends, so I've inserted a shape over everything to the left of the wall, to make the copy-space more clearly defined. I did this in PowerPoint - inserting the rectangle, filling it black, then making the fill 19% transparent. The white text is clearly visible against it, and the focus of the image (the walls you can write on) is still clear and uncluttered.